Tuesday, February 24, 2009


When I was younger I used to play the vocab game on freerice.com all the time. The theory is, for every word you match with the right definition, ten grains of rice are donated to “hungry people”. This website is in association with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program. On it’s website, it lists the two goals they have…1. To provide education for everyone for free and 2. To help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This class has made me think back to these days when I used to sit at my computer for who knows how long and play this “game”. I mean, I felt like I was learning something, and doing something good for society. So, I wanted to do a little more research and figure out just how this website works…and if it actually does.

This website started on October 7, 2007 and to this date-February 17,2009, 59,593,965,280 grains of rice have been donated. Information on the websites FAQ page states that two million people have been fed thanks to freerice.com. The rice that is donated is paid for by the sponsors of the websites which are clearly advertised on the bottom of each “correct answer” page. One example of a sponsor of this website is Unilever, a multi national company that owns over 400 food, beverages and cleaning product brands. Hmmm? Big corporations behind such a project. I never would have guessed…

As I ponder whether I really believe in this website-that every question answered correctly ACTUALLY donates ten grains of rice, I can’t help but think to myself that there’s no way that this is the solution to end world hunger. But then again…Is it really hurting anyone? Are there underlying consequences that I am failing to see? Are the wrong people benefitting?

“FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is simply a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. While it is not a registered non-profit organization, FreeRice is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Program to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Program directly.”-WFP

Also on the websites FAQ page is who has received these rice donations, here are some of them:
In Bangladesh, to feed 27,000 refugees from Myanmar for two weeks.
In Cambodia, to provide take-home rations of four kilograms of rice for two months to 13,500 pregnant and nursing women.
In Uganda, to feed 66,000 school children for a week
In Nepal, to feed over 108,000 Bhutanese refugees for three days
In Bhutan, to feed 41,000 children for 8 days
In Myanmar, to feed 750,000 cyclone affected people for 3 days.

These all sound promising and great, but for some reason I am just not convinced that this is doing more good than bad. In World Hunger, we read about foreign aid and how it usually ends up being an uglier reality than prior to US intervention- or any other developed country to third world country for that matter. This isn’t exactly the same thing, but in general it seems that the more we require them to depend on our donated rice, the less problem solving they will do to get to the root of the real problem. (Equality, gender discriminations, social and political issues-the list goes on…). Just as it said in the book, this rice donating falls more under the category of “emergency aid” and probably won’t be long lasting or sufficient enough to solve any hunger problems in the long run. Also, the more we contribute to cheap food the less market action will occur in these countries because local farmers won’t be able to compete with such low prices. They could potentially be kicked off their land and struggle to raise income to provide for their families.

As I was doing research on the website, I came across a familiar name and clicked- only to find a blog that Raj Patel wrote also regarding this website awhile back. How ironic. As I suspected he confirmed that this website doesn’t do much good in terms of efforts to stop world hunger.

“In short, then -- if you want to play word games, then FreeRice.com is a good deal of fun. But let no one think that it is a force for sustainable and dignified change for the world's hungry.”-Raj Patel

“A simple way to bring kids to the Internet for a good reason, a way to feed their minds and . . . to feed a whole lot of people . . . helping fight world hunger, one grain of rice at a time. ”-NBC Nightly News

Sorry NBC Nightly News, but I’m going to have to agree to disagree with you on this one.



  1. Another great charity site is AIDtoCHILDREN.com. It donates money to children in need through World Vision.

    Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

  2. Great post! I am so glad somebody investigated this. I also got hooked on this game a while back. My worry is that it will make people feel like they are solving the problem of hunger and therefore don't need to do anything else. There's no harm in playing the game - it probably does some real good in emergencies. But it could be very harmful if it makes people complacent about the root causes of hunger.